Book Magic
Some love for second hand books

Tomorrow it is Kingsday in The Netherlands. The day on which we celebrate the king’s birthday by turning the entire country in one massive flea market. The best day of the year to get up at the crack of dawn and prowl the streets looking for good, but more importantly cheap, books. Oh, the joy of browsing through a pile of decade old travel guides, half decayed harlequin novels and yesteryears bestsellers, to find a classic you have been meaning to read for some time.  Haggling to get a book for fifty cents instead of one euro. The thrill of walking home with a bag full of treasures without breaking the bank.  

Days like these remind me of my believe in book magic. Such as books that come to me just when I needed to read them. A book that sparks a conversation I needed to have. Books that bring me closer to another person. A book that wasn’t (high up) on my to read list, but that suddenly caught my attention. Book magic happens every so often in the library, but seems to be even more present in accidental finds; the books I stumbled upon at a flea market, at rubbish sales, at the little street libraries or in second hand shops. The books I wasn’t looking for, but where somehow looking for me. 

So let me tell you about three of the times I experienced book magic with a second hand book. 

  1. The Group – Mary McCarthy

The weeks following the fire that wrecked my apartment were full of things I had to do or take care of immediately. Handle the insurance stuff, pick out a new kitchen, bathroom, floor, tiles, furniture, everything. To say that my partner and me were stressed, is a bit of an understatement. On more than one occasion I burst into tears on seemingly random occasions (like the moment when I was looking for new cabinets with my father, or when I was trying to find a paint color for my living room). All the while I had to go to work, keep on going, while living in a strange apartment. Even worse, an apartment without books. 

Then on one of the trips to a second hand store to find crockery, I wandered towards the small book section. I just wanted a book that could get my mind out of the drama and the constant feeling of emergency. I wanted read to get out of my head. Among other books, I found Mary McCarty’s The Group and I just decided to take it with me. I left the store without any household item, but with a bag of books. I don’t remember much about the plot of The Group, other than it taking place in 1930’s New York, but I do recall that I started to read the book as soon as I came home from the store and just kept on reading the entire weekend. It was the first time after the fire that I could finally relax.

2. The Tattooed Girl – Joyce Carol Oates

When I went to New York City for a semester abroad, my parents where pretty nervous. To be honest, I was nervous as well. I had never travelled on my own before (and I had only flown once, a quick flight to London). I had never lived on my own before either. To make matters worse, I suffer from homesickness and get really anxious when I go on holiday. So this was a big step and I was not at all sure if I was able to pull it off. But I wanted to try, so I packed my bags and went for it. Limited baggage allowance and a lot of stuff to take with me, meant making though choices and most of my books had to stay home.  Therefor, once I was there and settled, I decided to go looking for books. My trusty guidebook told me to go to The Strand, and walking in there was like walking in to heaven. I walked through the aisles, just taking it all in. Brushing with my fingers over the spines, looking for a perfect match. While thus engaged, a fellow browser handed me a book and told me to take it, According to her, the book was amazing and I would surely like it too. We got to talking and she sounded so sincere, that I bought it, despite the fact that I had never before heard of Joyce Carol Oates before. Not only am I grateful for this woman for introducing me to this wonderful writer, but by striking up a conversation with me, she made me feel welcome and at home in the city. 

3. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

Growing up, my mom took my sisters and me to the library every three weeks. We would take a crate with us, filled with all the books we read the previous three weeks. Our village didn’t have library, only the library van that stopped in front of the school once every week. A lot of my classmates (that is, the ones that read for fun), got their library books from this van. But my mom took us to the real library in the next village, where there was a lot more choice. When I think of my love of books, I always think of these trips. Getting books with my mom. 

We usually went right out of school, when my dad was at work. Sometimes we went in the evening and my dad went with us. But when I think back to reading as a child, I only picture my mom. My love for reading is something I had always associated with her.

After I came back from New York City, where through the magic of distance I got closer to him, my dad took me to a big charity book sale. The company he work for sponsored the event and as a token of appreciation, the employees of the company were allowed to come shopping the night before the book sale would officially start. I browsed for a long time, while talking with my dad about all the books that we saw. The ones he wanted to read, the books he remembered reading when he was younger, the books I thought he should try. Our pile of books got bigger and bigger, mostly my picks, and my dad helped me carry it all. Brideshead Revisited was the last book I grabbed just before we were heading to the till. I will always remember this evening as the time I realized I share my love of reading with both my parents. 

Image by Jilbert Ebrahimi via Unsplash